Monday, March 21, 2011

 Diffusionistic Fantasies V
What would they leave behind?

One of the great questions concerning pre-Columbian contact between the Old and the New World is artifacts. One would expect that if extensive contact had happened between the Old and New World that we would have artifacts left behind by those visitors / explorers. Well pre-Columbian Old World artifacts are conspicuous by their absence in the New World.

Some diffusionistic thinkers have recognized the problem. For example David Kelley, well known for his work in deciphering Mayan Hieroglyphs has said:

While I was not bothered by the absence of archaeological evidence of a conventional sort with respect to the single site with extensive proto-Tifnagh inscriptions at Peterborough, Ontario, I am greatly bothered by the absence of comparable artifacts assemblages in association with the many Ogham inscriptions.1
Now Prof. Kelley supported the theories and the inscription mania of the late Barry Fell. Prof. Fell had a knack for finding inscriptions everywhere and for on some occasions falling for well documented frauds. Prof. Fell’s work in this field is considered by the vast majority of experts to be worthless.2

Prof. Kelley in an extraordinary example of question begging then says:

We need to ask not only what Fell has done wrong in his epigraphy, but also where we have gone wrong as archaeologists in not recognizing such an extensive European presence in the New World.3
This is a common polemical trick is assumes what has NOT been demonstrated, i.e., that there had been an extensive European presence in the New World before Columbus. “We” do not need to ask the question at all. Only someone who believes tin such a presence despite the lack of archaeological evidence would ask it. It is an attempt to reverse the onus by asking “Since we know they were here, (Which we don’t know at all!), how are we missing the signs of their presence?” It also assumes that modern day archaeologists would some how miss the presence of Europeans in pre-Columbian America. It is in effect special pleading.

George Carter, an hyper-diffusionist ups the absurdity with the following:

Then the question is raised: Where is the evidence of all this occupation? Very clearly a basic assumption is being made here: there was a massive movement of people with all their physical baggage … But the basic assumption may be wrong; we may profitably look at some cases.4
Of course Prof. Carter just doesn’t seem to get how could an occupation / contact lasting supposedly for hundreds of years and supposedly from many different peoples over a long period of time could be so barren of artifacts, yet supposedly be so rich in alleged inscriptions, none of which can of course be verified as for real.5 In other words more special pleading.

Of course since Prof. Carter wrote that comment almost twenty years as gone by and the results of modern day genetic studies etc., have more or less put paid to any notion of massive pre-Columbian diffusion since the original migrations from Asia into the Americas.6

So given the lack of artifacts would seem to indicate a lack of clear, substantial contact between the Old and the New World just what would we expect to find if there had been contact?

How about two unquestioned examples of contact that was brief, ephemeral, The Viking voyages to “Vinland” and the post-Columbian de-Soto expedition to the American South. Both such contacts were brief and would be expected to not leave a large archaeological presence.

The Vinland voyages occurred around the year 1000 C.E., and involved the use of a site by a few exploratory / trading missions before it was abandoned, thus the traces would be slight. Further from the evidence it would appear that subsequent Viking / Norse trips to Vinland were small in scale and fairly infrequent.7 Thus any remains would be few. Yet despite the very small scale of the voyages and their infrequency traces have been found that are indisputably Viking. Further it appears that the base camp for the Vinland voyages of the Vikings as been found.

Location of L'Anse Aux Meadows, New Foundland 

What was found in 1960 by Helge Ingstad and confirmed via archaeological evidence was a temporary Viking / Norse settlement at L’anse Aux Meadows Newfoundland. There was found Viking style house remains, a forge, complete with slag, a stone lamp, a bone needle, a wet stone, a spindle whorl and a Viking style ringed pin. Since the site was so boggy various wooden objects were found that are also Viking.8

L'Anse Aux Meadows Archaeological site

There has also been discovered in various native archaeological sites in the North American Arctic objects of Viking manufacture. Included among the finds are bits of chain mail, a bronze fragment of a balance arm and bronze pot fragment.9

Perhaps the most unusual evidence of contact between native North Americans and the Norse / Vikings is the Norse penny found at the Goddard site in the U.S. state of Maine. Now the Goddard site is a coastal site on the Atlantic and no other Norse / Viking remains have been found there. From the remains found at the site it is known that inhabitants of the site got trade goods from as far away as Northern Labrador in Canada. In this particular case Ramah chert a type of stone good for making tools came from northern Labrador. It is likely that the Norse penny came the same way rather than directly from trade with a Viking / Norse. The penny had a hole drilled in it that seems to indicate it was worn as jewellery.10

Despite the slight nature of the contact and its very brief duration Archaeologists were able to find indisputable evidence of pre-Columbian contact at L’anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Also they were able to find other evidence of later contacts in the Canadian Arctic and in Maine despite the slight and episodic nature of such contacts.

Now we turn to another example of brief contact leaving traces of evidence. In 1539 C.E., Hernando de Soto with a large expedition landed in modern day Florida and for the next 4 years he and his men wandered all over the American Southeast. De Soto died during the expedition and survivors returned to Mexico in 1543 C.E. The expedition was through territories occupied by members of the flourishing Mississippian culture. The results were for those cultures and their peoples were devastating as the Spanish brought war, disruption and plague to those societies with a generation those societies had largely collapsed due to these effects it appears.11

Map of the de Soto Expedition

Although the effects of de Soto’s expedition were apparently quite disastrous, and do show up in the archaeological record which indicates abandonment of sites etc, indicating collapse further Spanish explorations in the last half of the 16th century indicate large scale disruption and collapse.12

Because of this later exploration it is possible that some of the Spanish remains are from later expeditions. However some of the Spanish goods found appear to have been made only during the first half of the 16th century and given the location of the finds would appear to indicate a direct relationship with the de Soto expedition.13

For example beads known to have been made only in the period, (Called Nueva Cadiz beads), 1509-1545 in Europe have been found in various sites in the American Southeast, such as in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas. Further these beads have only been found in American Southeast and Caribbean sites that predate 1550 C.E.14

Another series of finds involve early 16th century Spanish ironwork consisting of iron scissors, chisels, celts, wedges a dagger, knives, even a sword. They have been found in the modern states of Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina.15

Numerous other metal artifacts have been found including brass Clarksdale sheet brass bells which date from the first half of the 16th century. Also found have been brass bracelets, perforated brass, brass pendants, silver beads, silver disks, and Spanish coins. The Bells have been found in sites in the modern states of Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama.16

What does this all mean? Well has Prof. Feder says after discussing the distribution of early 16th century Spanish artifacts at Native American Archaeological sites:

Nothing can show more clearly the impact of the Spanish entrada on the archaeological record – and nothing could be a better model for what the archaeological record should show regarding earlier expeditions, if earlier expeditions, indeed, had occurred.17
Since de Soto’s fleeting, ephemeral, (although not in terms of effects), expedition could and did leave indisputable archaeological evidence. The Vikings / Norse despite the very limited nature of their contact also left indisputable evidence. One would indeed expect that other expeditions, pre-Columbian, would in fact also leave indisputable archaeological evidence. The crop of other than the Vikings / Norse pre-Columbian artifacts is both tiny and doubtful so we can probably say with little fear of being proven wrong that such contact if it occurred was limited in time and scope.

We would reasonably expect that sustained pre-Columbian contact would leave behind many remains, at least something like the Vikings / Norse or de Soto’s expedition did. The special pleading of the hyper-diffusionists and their piling up of cultural similarities ignore this rather serious problem. Diffusionists who talk about everything from Chinese, to the Welsh in the Americas pre-Columbus have to explain the rather embarrassing lack of artifacts from those explorations.18

de Soto "discovers" the Mississippi
A Romantic view

Appendix - Coin Finds

Occasionally one hears from Diffusionists that findings of Greek, Roman etc., coins minted in the pre-Columbian era in the Americas proves pre-Columbian contact. However not one of these coins, (the Maine Penny is the one exception), has been found in a archaeological dig. They are all surface finds. Further the great majority have been found since the Second World War. Their distribution would appear to indicate that they were lost by Americans coming from abroad with ancient coins as collectibles. Such things as the general lack of variance in terms of coin dates and wide spread distribution inland do not seem to indicate coins obtained through trade.19

Interestingly the Diffusionist Prof. Stephen C. Jett in a letter in reply to Prof. Epstein’s article after doing his own analysis which confirmed Prof. Epstein’s analysis, 20, says:

To me, the most striking refutation of the alleged importance of the coin finds is that although they are almost all from the Greco-Roman world the areas of their discovery do not correspond with New World regions showing cultural evidence of possible classical links, viz., the Central Andean region and to a lesser degree, the Teotihuacán zone (Jett 978:629, 631-32). Conversely, I known(sic) of no coin reports from those regions. Excepting the Northwest Coast Chinese coin finds, which occur in a different context, Epstein’s hypothesis that most or all of the coins discovered represent post-Columbian losses by collectors or souvenir-seekers seems as plausible as any.21
Prof. Jett is to be congratulated for his honesty in reporting results uncongenial to his pet hypothesis, however, given that he admits that there are no coins finds in the “Central Andean region” or the “Teotihuacán zone”, doesn’t that create a problem for his hypothesis of contact during Greco-Roman times between those areas and the Greco-Roman World?

1. Kelley, David, Proto-Tifinagh and Proto-Ogham in the Americas, The Review of Archaeology, v. 11, no. 1, 1990, pp. 1-10, p. 10.

2. See Fell, Barry, America B.C.: Ancient Settlers In the New World, Demeter Press, New York, 1976, Saga America, Times Books, New York, 1980, Bronze Age America, Times Books, New York, 1982. In America B.C., Prof. Fell goes nuts over the Davenport Tablets as being authentic pre-Columbian documents. They are a fraud and that had been known for quite some time before Prof. Fell wrote his book. See McKusick, Marshall, The Davenport Conspiracy, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1970. A revised edition was published in 1991 under the name The Davenport Conspiracy Revisited. For a critical overview of Prof. Fell’s ideas see Williams, Stephen, Fantastic Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1991, pp. 266-273. 281-284, Cole, John R., Anthropology Beyond the Fringe, in Paranormal Borderlands of Science, Ed. Frazier, Kendrick, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1981, pp. 357-366, Mckusick, Marshall, Deciphering Ancient America, in Science Confronts the Paranormal, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1986, pp. 267-273, Fritze, Ronald, H., Invented Knowledge, Reaktion Books, London, 2009, p. 83.

3. Kelley, p. 10.

4. Carter, George, The Diffusion Controversy, New England Antiquities Research Association Journal, v. 26, 1992, pp. 50-61, p. 58. For a critical overview of Carter’s ideas see Williams, pp. 273-285.

5. Footnote 2 & 4.

6. See Meltzer, David J., First Peoples in a New World, University of California Press, Berkeley CA., 2009.

7. For translations of the compete Vinland Sagas, i.e., the Eirik the Red’s Saga, and The Greenlanders’ Saga, see Jones, Gwyn, The North Atlantic Saga, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986, The Greenlanders’ Saga, pp. 186-206, Eirik the Red’s Saga, pp. 207-232, Anonymous, The Vinland Sagas, Penguin Books, London, 1965, Graenlendinga Saga, (The Greenlanders’ Saga), pp. 47-72, Eirik’s Saga, (Eirik the Red’s Saga), pp. 73-105.

8. Wallace, Birgitta Linderoth, The Viking Settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, Ed., Fitzhugh, William W., Ward, Elisabeth I., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 2000, pp. 208-216, XII The L’anse Aux Meadows Site, Wallace, Birgitta Linderoth, in Jones, pp. 285-304.

9. Sutherland, Patricia D., The Norse and Native North Americans, in Fitzhugh et al, pp. 247, Schledermann, Peter, Ellesmere: Vikings in the Far North, in Fitzhugh et al, pp. 248-256.

10. Cox, Steven L., A Norse Penny from Maine, in Fitzhugh et al, pp. 206-207.

11. For the de Soto expedition and its effects see Duncan, David Ewing, Hernando de Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1996, Ramenofsky, Ann F., Galloway, Patricia, Disease and the de Soto Expedition, in The Hernando de Soto Expedition, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1997, pp. 259-279, Hudson Charles, The Historical Significance of the Soto Route, in Ramenofsky et al, pp. 313-326, Mann, Charles C., 1491, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1005, pp. 97-100, Goodman, Lawrence J., Wunder, John R., Law, Legitimacy, and the Legacy of Hernando de Soto, in Ramenofsky et al, pp. 329-354, Rabasa, Jose, Violence in the Soto Narratives, in Ramenofsky et al, pp. 380-409.

12. IBID. See also Duncan, p. 254. The two later explorers were Juan Pardo, 1566-1568, who explored parts of Tennessee, North and South Carolina; and Tristan de Luna, 1559-1561, he explored parts of Alabama, and a small part of Georgia.

13. Feder, Kenneth L., The Spanish Entrada: A Model for Assessing Claims of Pre-Columbian Contact between the Old and New Worlds, in North American Archaeologist, Ed. Moeller Roger W., pp. 147-166., pp. 155-157.

14. Feder, p. 157-159.

15. Feder, pp. 159-160.

16. IBID.

17. Feder, p. 161.

18. IBID. Feder.

19. Epstein, Jeremiah F., Pre-Columbian Old World coins in America: An Examination of the Evidence, Current Anthropology, v. 21, i 1, February 1980, pp. 1-20.

20. Jett, Stephen C., Letter, Current Anthropology, v. 21, i 1, February 1980, pp. 14-15.

21. Jett, pp. 14-15.

Pierre Cloutier

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